If you are a parent or caregiver looking for activities for young children, you’ve probably noticed that “sensory play” is all the rage on kid blogs and Pinterest. There are even entire websites devoted to sensory play for little ones, and while they are full of creative ideas, you may find yourself asking, “Does my child REALLY need sensory play for development?”

To answer this question, let’s look at what we know about sensory play.

 

 

WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?

Sensory play is simply play that encourages children to use one or more of the senses.  Often called “messy play,” sensory play experiences focus on stimulating children’s senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement.

Research tells us…

  • Young children rely on sensory input to learn about their environment.
  • Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.
  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.
  • Children’s exposure to sensory play opportunities is declining.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

The first three points on the list above are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell, sensory experiences are like food for the brain…they provide valuable input that allows the brain to build new pathways that in turn support growth in crucial areas of development.

The fourth point, however, is what sheds some light on the answer to our original question, “Is all this REALLY necessary?”  You may be thinking, “My parents didn’t do sensory play with me, and I turned out ok!”  The fact is, our little ones spend much less time outdoors than their parents and certainly grandparents did as children.  Since the outdoors is naturally full of sensory play opportunities, this has definitely had a part in the decline of sensory play.  Secondly, although children can definitely fulfill their need for sensory play indoors when given periods of unstructured playtime with stimulating materials, the truth is that indoor time is often monopolized by television, battery operated toys, or toddler/preschool programs that focus on drilling academics rather than fostering important play skills.  This has resulted in a generation of children who may not even know how to play when given the opportunity…how sad is that?

So in short, the answer to your question is yes, sensory play is crucial for your child’s development. And since children today are no longer given ample opportunities for naturally occurring sensory play, it is up to us as parents to be sure their needs are met.

BUT WAIT!!  

Before you rush out and buy the materials to recreate every zany sensory activity you ever pinned on Pinterest, here are some much less time-intensive activities that you can do to enrich your child’s “sensory diet” without losing your sanity as well.

  • Play with sand, mud, water, shaving cream, cornmeal, water beads, dried or cooked pasta, dried beans or lentils, etc.  Provide a variety of containers, kitchen tools, and small toys for your child to explore with.
  • Sing and dance to music.  Use child-sized instruments, scarves, ribbon wands, etc. to encourage participation and engage multiple senses.
  • Build with blocks, empty cardboard boxes, or canned goods.  Knock down your towers and talk about the loud noises.
  • Add essential oils or extracts to play dough and compare all the different scents as you play.
  • Pick out a variety of fruits and vegetables at your local market (try to choose some that are new to your child).  Have a “sensory picnic” where you encourage your child to touch, smell, taste, and play with all the different produce.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood or in a wooded park.  Let your child stop and pick up leaves, sticks, rocks, or whatever else interests him/her.  If you want, bring a bag to fill with your “treasures” to bring home and make a collage with, or just simply to show to another family member.

MORE GREAT STUFF JUST FOR YOU:

To learn how to use fun sensory play activities to help get your toddler talking, check out Building Language with Sensory Play. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/sensory-play-and-language/)

For an entire gallery of  sensory play ideas, click HERE. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/category/play/sensory-play-little-minds-tot-school/)

Stephanie HaassLittle Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Blogger, founder of www.two-daloo.com

 

You Are Your Child’s Best Toy!

Photo Credit: Sujin

We first need to begin by saying; Parent Education has saved us from ideologies that were not known to man centuries ago. The same goes for toys; what toys do you buy? What toys do you accept? Why? Can you even answer that question? Well for many years we met families who could not, and we realized we needed to explain the fundamentals of brain development and the importance of “sufficient”, “crucial” and the  “necessary” factors about the toys in your child’s room. Trust me, you might have never known that certain toys can be detrimental if not used properly!

What is Brain Development?  Why, do children benefit from having their experiences enhanced?  According to the National Center For Infants, Toddlers, and Families, “The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. A newborn’s brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells”.  At birth the brain is said to be unfinished and underdeveloped, but we know children use their brain to create cognitive skills, emotions, social skills and more. The brain has been said to develop in the world and not in the womb. Are you focused yet?  Great, let’s move on.  Research shows that 75 percent of a child’s brain occurs after birth! So now take a look in your child’s room and quietly examine all the toys, and pick out what you feel enhanced their brain development, better yet did someone even interact with them while using these toys? Now, this is to get you zoned into reality for your child’s optimal success not to feel down because you might not have been clued on to this topic. When we know better, we do better and as educators we want you to be the best you can be!

 

Here are 5 Things You Did Not Know About Battery-Operated Toys & Their Effects on Brain Development!

 

Developmental psychologist Rachel Keen notes, parents and teachers “need to design environments that encourage and enhance problem solving from a young age” (Keen 2011).

  1. They do not promote math skills, social skills, problem solving skills, and cooperative play, but blocks, hands on objects, and wooden toys do.
  2. Going back to the basics allows language development to grow. When your child has to interact to play, this is the benefit of high success. There is not much interaction with battery-operated toys.
  3. Infants and Toddlers brains are dependent on the responses of adults.
  4. A baby forms 700 neural connections in the first year of life. Now think if this child was playing alone with battery operated or do it yourself toys.
  5. A newborn is born with most of the brain cells we have for our entire life, but do not know how to connect and use them. This is where we come in to understand how crucial interaction and brain development is for young children.

So tell me what will you go home and do now?

 

Photo Credit: HABA.de

—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

We all know that The American Academy Of Pediatrics does not suggest any screen time before the age of 2 years old! What I find so funny is many families we service are in a state of shock! Today, families are resorting to screen and television time at extreme rates. Can we remember when children were entertained without it? I sure do! We know, you say well what do I do with my children, then you say does it really matter what they watch? Then you ask what if it is a children’s show, because there are so many of those now.  Sorry to burst the bubble, all are the same and it is not healthy for brain development. We are going to explain to you why and hope that you will rethink your ideologies. Trust, it is only difficult because we see it everywhere today, even in our home we make a conscious habit of turning it off.  So let’s jump right in!

Photo Credit: Imagery Majestics

According to The New Yorker, by The American Academy Of Pediatrics “Since the AAP made its original recommendations in 1999, passive entertainment screens — televisions, DVD players, computers streaming video — have become ubiquitous, and the average 12-month-old gets between one and two hours of screen time per day. (Interactive screens, such as iPads and other tablets, are considered in the new recommendations.) The 0 – to 2-year age group has become a prime target for commercial educational programming, often used by parents convinced that it’s beneficial”. This should say a lot to your family! Whoa, who would have thought? So why are so many families engaging in excessive screen time and how do we fix it?

  1. Screens are not to be used as rewards or punishment – Doing this will allow your children to feel as if it is more important, it should not be an important object in your home. This also gives you as a parent time to see where else you can stop using certain items as reward or punishment. Allowing it to be seen as a sometimes event will maximize the conversation, while your family engages in any screen time. Use this time to communicate with your child, ask questions, what do they like or dislike? How are their emotions while watching?  If age-appropriate you can even discuss TV ads and commercials and get an understanding of your child’s thought process.
  2. Allow children to problem solve, and entertain themselves – Did you know that even an infant can be allowed time to entertain themselves? Learning problem solving and enhancing cognitive skills is a life lesson for your child. According to Dr. Ari Brown, media, even in the background distracts infants and toddlers from play. There have been studies proven that language development can be diminished and developmental delays may become present.  Children’s brains grow profoundly in the first 5 years of life. The issues come when children can be learning how to interact and engage and we do not allow it.  Proven fact, is that a paren speaks about 940 words per hour to their small children and with screens even in the background that number drops between 600-700. Do you want to take those risks with your children? If you are what you eat, then you are what your brain experiences a philosopher once said. Even though infants and toddlers stare, their brain is incapable of making the connections and sense of what is going on with screen time.
  3. Make all meal times, family time – This can be such a lifelong lesson in your home, use the time to engage in physical touch, use eye contact, positive words and modeling behavior. This also allows you the on-on-one time with your child to get to understand and know them better. Doing this will help with language and self-compassion.   Try not to create separation in your home just for screen use.

Photo Credit: Imagery Majestics


—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

Photo Credit: Cheltanham Parks.

When we think of Play and Structured Play, we immediately realize that observation skills and learning go hand in hand. Both are highly beneficial to your child’s development. Do you often ask, “What is Child Development”? According to Kid Sense Child Development, “Children’s development occurs across a range of skill areas including: physical (motor) skills, speech and language, social and emotional, cognitive and intellectual abilities”.  Monitoring of Child Development is crucial to your child’s success, while making sure their milestones are being met. Let’s delve into helping your families use three techniques to take your fun playtime and make it slightly more structured, you can do this without your child even knowing they are learning! Here it goes!

  1. Introduce (1-2) specific concepts for daily playtime sessions – Choose specific times whether early morning or after afternoon snack to structure your child’s play. Get on their level and engage with them. Find something you know your child likes and set up an activity around it. This could take place at the carpet, table, or outside on a walk. Use props, materials and high energy. Ask open-ended questions, discuss observations, and use visual cues. Your child can go into any direction they choose and you follow their lead, this will make a huge difference for the future. This will offer a wealth of knowledge for the child.
  2. Create a home model of an educational space/classroom – This can be used for children infant to preschool. Purchase bins, drawers, chairs etc. and turn your child’s entertainment space into an educational realm. This means having everything in its order and all materials having a home. I.E. books on a shelf, small table and chairs for art, puzzle rack, stuffed animals on a shelf, cars in a bin. This will give it a structured look and even free play will be semi-structured.
  3. Use team building and appropriate social skills on playdates – We encourage children having play dates and or friends. A play date is the perfect time to see what developmental, and social level your child is on. Use special techniques to discuss emotions, proper sharing techniques, and listen to the language they use with peers. Take notes, and see how you can improve these for the next visit. Encourage success using positive words and modeling appropriate behavior.

    Photo Credit: Cheltanham Parks.


—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

Photo Credit: Nathaniel S.

What is Play? What is structured and unstructured play? Do you ever wonder or think, is my child playing too much or not at all? When my child plays is it even educational or developmentally appropriate? As Early Childhood Development Specialists we are here to tell you, Play can be the most beneficial and important stage of your child’s life from infancy to their preschool years! Wow, You Say!  Well come on already, ask us why?

Well according to the Academy of Pediatrics, play contributes to the physical, emotional, cognitive and social skills of your child. Play also gives that time for parents and or caregivers to be fully engaged with the child. With the new movement of academics and curriculum being pushed down earlier, and with the new rush of technology many families are not engaging in play like generations ago. We know there are 2 different types of play; free play– which is when children are left to amuse themselves in any way, and use their imagination without any direction or guidance from adults. We have even witnessed some free play unsupervised for older children. Structured Play-, which is when children are given direction and or guidance in specific activities to broaden and or develop the necessary skills for their current stage of development. Both types are necessary, but more structured play can be utilized with you at home, used with nannies, and or when deciding on how to choose a school for your children.

Below are the top 5 ways to engage in more structured play with your children, to take their individual development to the next level. The key is to practice being in a conscious state as much as possible to notice what you are doing and how to adjust- not to make yourself try to be perfect.  Show your children, you can get down and dirty too!

  1. Provide new ideas and learning opportunities- Next time you are home, or the caregiver is with your child, let the child peruse around to find 2-3 of their favorite toys. Use these toys as an opportunity to ask open-ended questions, discuss observations, and use visual cues and so forth. This will open your child’s mind to answering questions (even if they can not speak). This will further benefit their comprehension and cognitive skills for the future. Make a commitment to begin this once a day!
  2. Boost up the physical activity and motor play- Do you understand how important active play is for growing children? Make use of a playground, museum, taking a walk, and or playing a movement game at home. Your child will love playing leapfrog, roll over my friend, or hop and jump scooter at home. Make up games, and remember they do not have to be lengthy; using 15 minutes to begin is just as suitable.
  3. Emotional Tolerance/Social Skills/Team Building- Children need to be given outlets and techniques for handling their emotions. Guiding our children to learn how to behave and what is expected in every situation is crucial. Learning how to work as a team, even if it is just you and baby, or sibling and baby. These are skills for life. Find games to encourage team building, kindness and concern for not only themselves but also others.
  4. Encourage Their Use of Imagination- In today’s society we do not see many people still dreaming or understanding how important it is to use your imagination. Begin on a weekday and take 15 minutes to create imaginary fun. This will not only boost their self-esteem, but also have your child engage with either words or facial expressions to show you how they are feeling. Encourage the love of books and reading by bringing life into your story time, imagination goes a long way.
  5. Take notes on your child’s developmental level- This is an important step, begin taking notes about where you feel developmentally your child is. Check out the CDC, website to get a guideline of where your child should be for their age. Use this to challenge them as you create more activities. Have fun, this is what childhood and parenting is all about. You and your child were made for each other and have a special gift together. Work on that gift, master that gift and teach others.

 

Photo Credit: Shane O’ Mac


—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

 

We at Little Pnuts know, that receiving a Special Delivery of beautiful new toys is an amazing thing, but sometimes, the box they came in—well, that’s even more AMAZING. Why not jumpstart your Little Pnuts imagination by helping them to create something wonderful from the Special Delivery boxes they receive each quarter from Little Pnuts?

Being in a world of boxes means being in a world that lights up a rather dull day. It’s not just a plain old box, it’s a rocket ship, a race car, a house, a gas station, a castle, even a baby dolls bed. It’s a place where ideas take place, a vision, an inspiration, and then… the creativity takes over. Your Little Pnuts world broadens and expands with that one brown box. His playtime becomes more focused, patience grows, and a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment is always the end result. For the parent this means hours upon hours of peaceful engaged quiet time, which at times, erupts into giggles and squeals of glee. Now what parent isn’t begging for just a little bit of this quality time in their normally hectic and rushed day?

We love that we can provide your Little Pnuts years of “imagine.create.play“, but we’re even more thrilled that we can provide, in a simple brown box, endless hours of entertainment that comes from an idea sparked within their little brilliant minds.

It’s not just a box….It’s a beautiful and fun new world to be discovered!

For more ideas on what your Little Pnuts can do with their Special Delivery boxes follow us on Pinterest.

 

These are the truly fun times, the moments in which your Little Pnut will begin to keep you on your toes and biting your nails. Into everything, toddling to and fro’ and exploring new heights your Little Pnut is bringing back the fun into your life. Sleeping through the night now he also has more energy to play and so do you.

Your Little Pnut is beginning to focus on the development of his gross motor skills, walking, running, dancing, throwing, he might even begin to kick a ball back and forth. So many things to try out and explore. His world and surrounding environment are all so close now for him to begin experimenting with.

Music now  becomes a very integral part of his life. You’ll notice that your Little Pnut will start to bang spoons on surfaces, clap toys together and start grooving to your favorite tunes. Your Little Pnut will giggle with glee as you sing along and dance with him, such a great way to expand his love for music and appreciate close, fun times with his Mama & Papa. Make it a game and play fun sing-along music with repetitive phrases that will also encourage his growing vocabulary.

So many opportunities to have fun with one another and to explore the world together, the Toddler years are truly some of the most memorable times in both of your lives. Make them fun and make them play filled.

Whether it’s the first time you are dropping your Little Pnut off at school or a skill you’ve practiced for a few years now, it’s always difficult to say goodbye on that first day of the new school year, perhaps even more so for you. Now is the time to wipe away those tears of sadness (or relief) and relish in the knowledge that your Little Pnut is embarking on the adventure of his life.

Your Little Pnuts are about to have the time of their lives. With so many new skill sets to be acquired and mastered and so much knowledge to be absorbed your Little Pnuts are now beginning to develop a deeper love for learning about the world beyond their immediate surroundings.

In preschool, your Little Pnuts will also begin to foster relationships with other Little Pnuts, some of which may last their lifetime.  They are further establishing their social skills, interacting with more depth and thoughtfulness. They are learning to take turns, practicing patience as they wait for their chance to try something or play with something, all the while developing focus and concentration. They are learning more and more each day in an environment that is fun, playful and engaging. Your Little Pnuts are now enjoying learning in a social setting—with friends.

At home you will begin to notice your Little Pnut having an increased desire for you to read even more to them. They will begin to interact with stories and to ask unending streams of questions while you are in mid-sentence. Their curiosity is never-ending, absorbing the most amount of knowledge in these years versus the rest of their lives. It really is true, they really are little sponges at this phase in their development.

We as the parents of preschoolers should enforce this love of knowledge as best we can. Conscientiously answering that endless stream of questions with true facts and knowledge. We must challenge them to learn about both winning and losing and how to be motivated to always strive for the best. We must prepare them for their future success so they will know and understand that with hard work and determination they will accomplish what they set out to do.

Preschool is put in place to help your Little Pnuts engage more practically with the world around them and to begin to flourish as little beings. Congratulate them as they are about to conquer the world.

Preschool is fun!

Life is great. You have your Little Pnut and all you want to do is stare into his beautiful eyes, glance longingly at his face as he sleeps and cuddle with him when he’s awake. He is the ultimate of perfection and you know it.

His first year is for achieving all of those wonderful and magical milestones that you read about and each of those milestones will guide your Little Pnut into becoming an amazing young man or woman one day. You as his parent, have all the tools to set your Little Pnut up for a lifetime of success, simply by being there for him and helping him learn about his world and how to experience it to the fullest. Right now is the perfect time to start getting him excited about learning, teaching him how to use his imagination and inspire his creativity. All of this wonderful learning can be done through your interaction with him at playtime.

The first 3 months of your Little Pnuts life is truly all about learning about the senses. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. He is developing each of these five senses every minute of each day. Strengthening his eye muscles as he stares lovingly into your eyes, listening as you whisper his name softly and feeling your hands gently caressing that baby soft skin of his. The world he knows gets bigger and brighter every day through each of these senses.

Months 3-6 are all about experiencing the senses. Your Little Pnut is seeing things up close and in color, hearing and being able to distinguish sounds, smelling new things more closely, tasting different flavors by putting things in their mouth and touching everything around them. It is through these senses that they experience and learn about the world around them.

Months 6-9 are all about interacting with the senses. Your Little Pnut is now able to hold onto things and bring them closer to look at them more inquisitively, shaking things to see if they make noise. He can now touch the textures and feel the curves and straight edges of an object putting them in their mouths to interact with them more intimately. He may even have started crawling and getting into everything. You may start introducing solid foods now with even more tastes and textures. His little world is expanding and his experiences within his world are only making it more fun to discover.

Months 9-12 are about further perfecting your Little Pnuts interaction with his senses. Crawling around pulling on things pushing things, trying to pull himself up. His gross motor skills and fine motor skills are being further perfected allowing his senses to control how he observes and interacts with the world. He is loving the learning and growing that his little body and mind is allowing. He is beginning to push the limits, trying everything, experimenting with everything and investigating everything. Each day his environment further blossoms, allowing him to continue on a journey to learn something new.

It’s a bright and beautiful world for your Little Pnut, introduce it to him!